Fantasy Football: Adrian Peterson Should Not Be the First Running Back Drafted in 2016
Earlier this week, ESPN held their annual Fantasy Football summit where they set the early rankings for the upcoming NFL season. In these rankings, they decided that Adrian Peterson should be the first running back taken in 2016. I respect all of the fantasy analysts at ESPN and really enjoy their summit, but I do disagree with the ranking of Adrian Peterson.
I don't need to tell you that Purple Jesus has been one of the best running backs the NFL has ever seen. According to ESPN, Peterson finished the fantasy season in second just behind Devonta Freeman in running back scoring.
Here at numberFire, we use a measurement called Net Expected Points (NEP) to calculate how well a player performed on each individual play. This is a list of the top-10 running backs in total scoring from last season. I added the NEP statistics so you can see how Peterson compared to the rest of the group.
|Player||Fantasy Points||Rushing NEP||NEP/Rush||Total NEP|
Peterson ranked eighth in Total NEP -- which measures rushing and receiving performance -- out of the top-10 last season, and it was the lowest Total NEP score he's seen over the last five years. He also, for the record, led the NFL in touches in 2015 with 327 carries and 30 receptions.
It makes sense that his NEP would decline over time, especially considering his elite seasons were some of the best the league has ever seen.
This Is Sparta!
Though it's a little arbitrary, here's how running backs have performed the season after a 300-plus carry season since 2011. The first table focuses on the change in rushing attempts.
|Player||Year||Rushing Attempts||Rushing Attempts in Following Season||Change +/-|
Whether it was minuscule or massive, each back over the past five seasons saw their rushing attempts decrease.
Next, we'll look at how rushing yards changed after a 300-plus carry season with the same players.
|Player||Year||Rushing Yards that Season||Rushing Yards in Following Season||Change +/-|
Only Marshawn Lynch increased his yardage total among the group. The rest decreased in yardage, and it was by the hundreds.
Bouncing back from a 300-plus carry season seems like a difficult task, as many running backs break down the year after such high usage. It likely won't get easier with Peterson since he just turned 31 in March, which is old for a starting running back.
Act Your Age, Not Your Shoe Size
Peterson is also among the 10 oldest running backs -- Fred Jackson leads the league at age 35.
How have 30-plus year-old running backs done coming off of a 300-plus carry season? According to Pro Football Reference, only 10 running backs aside from Peterson have done this since 2000. The first table looks at rushing attempts.
|Name||Year||Age||Rushing Attempts that Season||Rushing Attempts in Following Season||Change +/-|
Aside from Hall-of-Fame running back Curtis Martin, most backs saw their carries drop significantly.
Next, we'll look at the change in rushing yards.
|Name||Year||Age||Rushing Yards that Season||Rushing Yards in Following Season||Change +/-|
Again, Pitt football alum Curtis Martin was the only running back since the turn of the century to see an increase in stats in his 30's after three hundred or more rushing attempts.
After all of this has been said, Peterson could put together a 300-touch, double-digit touchdown season, but it's an unlikely outcome based on historical stats. It's more likely that we begin to see the aging process take effect. Father Time is still undefeated.
Even if Peterson fights off Father Time for another season and rushes 250-300 times for 1,200 yards and 8-10 touchdowns, does that still make him worthy of the first-overall running back selection?
If Peterson was the clear-cut only remaining elite back, then we could all see an argument for taking him first. But when you can wait a few more picks and take David Johnson or Jamaal Charles, or even another round and take Lamar Miller or Doug Martin, it seems very risky to spend your first-round pick on Peterson.
Maybe I will be wrong and Peterson will run wild again this season, but I would rather trust history on this one.